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Time to lead – science to accelerate the Global Goals

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Time to lead – science to accelerate the Global Goals

A campaign for decisionmakers on what science recommends to accelerate progress on the Global Goals. Launched for the SDG Summit in September 2023.

Published on 4 September 2023


    “Time to Lead – science to accelerate the Global Goals”. A campaign developed by researchers at Stockholm Environment Institute in collaboration with the International Science Council and researchers at Linköping University, as part of a communications project funded by Formas, a Swedish research council for sustainable development.

    The time to lead is now

    Much work remains to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Progress reports and the state of our world make it clear: we must correct our course.

    In correcting the course, decision-makers should draw on insights from the first phase, the knowledge accumulated and the best available science. ”Time to Lead – science to accelerate the Global Goals” synthesizes what scientists recommend for accelerating progress on the SDGs and keeping the Goals within reach. It is based on key synthesis reports.

    1. Our collective knowledge

    Political and institutional change towards achieving the Global Goals needs to be built on knowledge underpinned by science. Make room for science-based and inclusive decisions that build confidence in action.

    • Ensure science for the Goals is relevant for society. Initiate and produce more research outside of high income countries. Support the participation of low-income countries, and citizens, in science initiatives (Biermann et al., 2022; Independent Group of Scientists/UN, 2023).
    • To deepen trust in science and public information, intensify and tighten engagement in science—policy-society interactions (Biermann et al., 2022; Independent Group of Scientists/UN, 2023).
    • Increase public research and development funding to missions that have been jointly defined by civil society, local communities, industry and academia (SEI & CEEW, 2022).
    • Keep scientific results open to all and enable knowledge-sharing. Provide public interest groups, policymakers, industry leaders and teachers with free access to relevant publications, data and software (Independent Group of Scientists/UN, 2023).

    See the reference brief for methods and sources

    2. The Goals give us common ground

    Embrace multilateralism and engage all levels of society in the transformations to sustainability. Entry points for such transformations are known and universal. High-income countries must keep their promises to ensure effective global cooperation.

    • Strengthen multilateralism by rebuilding trust through meaningful commitments, monitoring and accountability on progress with transparency, and fulfilling financial promises by high-income countries. Use the norm-setting powers of multilateral institutions to make sustainability an easy choice (IPCC, 2023; SEI & CEEW, 2022).
    • Implement interventions across entry points for transformations: human well-being and capabilities, sustainable and just economies, sustainable food systems, energy decarbonization and universal access, urban and peri-urban development, and the global environmental commons (Independent Group of Scientists/UN, 2023).
    • Agree on a framework for transformations that can bridge local action with international cooperation, so that solutions reflect our diverse contexts. Develop science-based national plans to implement the framework and engage the public (Independent Group of Scientists/UN, 2023.
    • Strengthen capacities for transformations at individual and institutional levels, including foresight capacity, public engagement, effective knowledge production, and stronger science-policy-society collaboration (Independent Group of Scientists/UN, 2023).

    See the reference brief for methods and sources

    3. The window is still open

    For action on the Goals to lead to sustainable outcomes, leadership is needed that takes a long-term perspective and considers future generations. Act boldly. Choices made today will have impact now and for centuries to come.

    • Bold, science-based decisions can speed up progress towards the Global Goals. Compressed timescales and extended time horizons in decision-making are needed to avoid lock-in and intergenerational discrimination (SEI & CEEW, 2022).
    • Deep, rapid and sustained climate mitigation actions are needed now to minimize projected losses and damages for humans and ecosystems. For many systems and regions, feasible and cost effective mitigation options are available (IPCC, 2023).
    • Progress on the Goals have more synergies than trade-offs with long-term strategies for climate mitigation and adaptation (IPCC, 2023).
    • Consider integration of the Goals in environmental law and impact assessment procedures (Independent Group of Scientists/UN, 2023).
    • Make a sustainable lifestyle an easy choice for individuals and communities. Reduce footprints of high-income people and nations (Independent Group of Scientists/UN, 2023; SEI & CEEW, 2022).

    See the reference brief for methods and sources

    4. Rethink measures of progress

    The ways in which we track progress on the Global Goals need to mirror the inseparable threads between society, economy and environment. The time has come to move beyond GDP as the measure of prosperity.

    • Recognize the need to redefine prosperity through alternative indicators, and generate buy-in across society through consultative approaches, including with subnational governments (Independent Group of Scientists/UN, 2023; SEI & CEEW, 2022).
    • Ensure that national statistics offices routinely adopt consumption-based and life-cycle accounting. Set goals and strategies for reducing footprints, giving special attention to institutions with low capacity (Independent Group of Scientists/UN, 2023; SEI & CEEW, 2022).
    • Develop indicators for measuring the pace of transformations towards the Goals, recognizing near-term action that deliver on long-term visions (SEI & CEEW, 2022).
    • Transform science on sustainable development by designing new performance indicators and invest more in empirical research on implementation of the Goals, including their interlinkages (Independent Group of Scientists/UN, 2023).

    See the reference brief for methods and sources

    5. Gather the evidence to act

    Make it easier to lead with science. Track, expect and recognize progress and embrace new ways of collecting data.

    • Invest in data, science-based tools, evaluation methodology and policy learning to improve planning and follow up of progress on the Global Goals (Independent Group of Scientists/UN, 2023; Sachs et al., 2022; SEI & CEEW, 2022).
    • Build a community of practice, to strengthen ability to track progress. Engage a diversity of actors who can contribute to collective knowledge, including national statistics offices, academia, civil society and philanthropic organizations (Sachs et al., 2022; SEI & CEEW, 2022).

    See the reference brief for methods and sources

    6. Keep promises made

    While promises made have languished, time still remains to achieve the Goals. Build trust in action through better transparency and participation. Act on commitments made.

    • Improve accountability of governments and other stakeholders on implementing the Goals at international, regional, national and subnational levels (Independent Group of Scientists/UN, 2023; SEI & CEEW, 2022).
    • Enable multiple perspectives in resolving goal conflicts, by enforcing higher standards for transparency and public participation in the procedures for policymaking. Involve young people in decision-making and take future generations into account (SEI & CEEW, 2022).
    • Start major meetings convened by the UN, such as the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development and SDG Summit, with an accountability forum to give a dedicated and high-status platform for follow-up. Review performance to date before announcing new pledges and commitments (SEI & CEEW, 2022).
    • Systematically track action and progress on as many stakeholder pledges and by as many countries as possible, drawing on both official data from national reporting and other data sources (Sachs et al., 2022; SEI & CEEW, 2022).

    See the reference brief for methods and reference sources

    7. Leave no one behind

    The goals are for everyone. Advancing the political and economic position of the world’s poorest countries is essential for making lasting prosperity for all.

    • Encourage inclusive growth centred on those living in poverty, together with progressive redistribution measures. Financing can come from reformed tax-based and domestic carbon- pricing revenues, and from the wealthiest countries committed to financing global poverty reduction (Independent Group of Scientists/UN, 2023).
    • Clearly link reduced inequalities to environmental benefits, to show that it is possible to address inequality without exacerbating climate change or further degrading ecosystems (IPCC, 2023).

    See the reference brief for methods and sources

    8. From extraction to care

    Our relationship to the planet needs to deepen. Let Indigenous expertise serve as an essential source of knowledge. Consider the legal rights of nature.

    • Expand and invest in nature-based education. Methods and experiences of Indigenous cultures can serve as references and sources of knowledge (Independent Group of Scientists/UN, 2023; SEI & CEEW, 2022).
    • National legislative bodies should consider whether establishing rights of nature is effective for protecting its integrity (SEI & CEEW, 2022).

    See the reference brief for methods and sources

    9. No goal is an island

    To progress on the universal Global Goals and leave no one behind, we must recognize how they are interconnected. Visualize and leverage these relationships to collaborate within and between countries.

    • Use systemic and integrated approaches to policymaking, with tools that analyse synergies and trade-offs between the Goals (Independent Group of Scientists/UN, 2023; SEI & CEEW, 2022).
    • Apply step-wise and timely decision-making, with wider system boundaries and extended timescales that account for future generations (SEI & CEEW, 2022).
    • Consider geographical spillovers – synergies and trade-offs emerging from implementation of the Goals in one place with effects in another (Independent Group of Scientists/UN, 2023; Sachs et al., 2022).

    See the reference brief for methods and sources

    10. Realign financial systems

    Address the funding gap for the Global Goals. Make sustainability standard practice in private finance and ensure long-term stable investment conditions.

    • Make the global financial system work for sustainable development. Provide an international and national policy environment with long-term goals in key areas, that lowers risk, increases incentives and makes sustainability the norm for investments (Independent Group of Scientists/UN, 2023; SEI & CEEW, 2022).
    • Coordinate governments to harmonize financial regulation frameworks and remove barriers to mobilizing international investments (SEI & CEEW, 2022).
    • Develop multilateral and national mechanisms for targeting international finance to low- and middle-income countries, to support sustainable fossil-free economies (SEI & CEEW, 2022).
    • Integrate the Goals in the codes of conduct for business strategies. Invest in technology innovation systems that accelerate widespread adoption of sustainable technologies and practices (Independent Group of Scientists/UN, 2023; Sachs et al., 2022; SEI & CEEW, 2022).

    See the reference brief for methods and sources

    If you want to engage with us on social media and share the #TimeToLead message, follow our posts on @SEIResearch and LinkedIn.


    Nina Weitz
    Nina Weitz

    Team Leader: Global Goals and Systems; Senior Research Fellow

    SEI Headquarters

    Henrik Carlsen
    Henrik Carlsen

    Senior Research Fellow

    SEI Headquarters

    Therese Bennich
    Therese Bennich

    Research Fellow

    SEI Headquarters

    For more information

    Maria Cole
    Maria Cole

    Senior Communications and Impact Officer


    SEI Headquarters

    Topics and subtopics
    Governance : Sustainable Development Goals

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